I am a pangolin. Yes, you’ve read that correctly. I sit here, at a keyboard, plinking away at the keys to tell my story. It’s not the only set of keys I’ve caressed with long claws, mind you. There have been many others over the years. But that would be getting ahead of myself, wouldn’t it? Sit down. Curl into a ball. Listen.
That’s all I had to do, to begin all this. There was a young boy who would come into the forest after school, and he would bring his keyboard with him. It was not an impressive thing, and he was not an impressive boy. But he would play. And there was something in his music that awoken something within me. A cliché at best, I know. But it is the truth. I do not think that the boy was magical, nor was the music he played. I think there was something inside of me. I heard the music, and I chose to listen. That is the magic of my story.
The years were not easy. It takes more than just a note struck upon an old battery-powered keyboard to bring about a change to a pangolin. Trust me, I know. But it was a start. It was when the boy stopped coming that I finally finished becoming who I was. It was the lack of music that made me push myself the final few steps. There was music inside of me. I had to get it out.
I could speak, of course. Speech is a bit like music, but without elegance. Still, I’m sure you can imagine the absurdity of the situation. See, I needed to play. But one cannot play the piano in the forest. So my burrow was abandoned and I ventured into the city. Humans are awake during the day. How strange. The sun is hot, they are lazy and sweaty, and yet they sleep during the most productive hours? Yes, humans are strange. But they have pianos.
So I started waking early in the sun to meet with the humans. I would perch up on two legs, press my claws together, and try to have civil conversations with them. Soon I was known as The Pangolin around the city. An easy title, when you’re the only pangolin around that can talk.
A small family took me in. They did not have a piano. They did not have the space for a piano. They did not have the money for a piano. At this point, I missed the boy who would come to the forest. I searched the city for him, but searching a city is hard. Even for a pangolin. I could not root him out.
So I would get up each day and roll about the city, searching for pianos to play. I was not good. I would love to tell you that the magic inside of me presented a natural aptitude for the keys, but I assure you that it did not. The owners of the pianos would not abide by my presence for long. A day or so, and they’d kick me out, and I’d have to find another to let me practice. It would have been easier with a piano at home. The hardship only pushed me further. The music underneath my scales only grew in strength the more I played. There was a desperation here that all artists know: the understanding of the greatness of art, but the inability to produce it.
Still, I played.
It is hard to hate a pangolin, I think. We are naturally quite cute. And I am cuter still, since I understood humans. They particularly liked it when I rolled up into a ball. I say this not to brag, but to perhaps help you understand—even though I started off as a lousy pianist, I still had fans.
Until the boy returned.
Perhaps now I understand a bit more of the world. Perhaps now I can say that the boy seen the same magic under my scales that he had inside himself. He had moved away, yes, and left me behind, but now he was back. And he recognized me, just as I did him. Even before I could think, I would still crunch myself up his feet as he played his little keyboard out in the forest. To him, I think he believed that I had stolen a bit of his talent. But I know that’s simply not true. Music was inside me, music was inside him.
It was the rate at which I was improving that was frustrating to him, I believe. He had gone to school to become a pianist, and hoped to return to the city an accomplished artist. I had learned to play anywhere I could, clawing at the keys every moment I had. And in the end, you could not say he was better than me, nor I was better than him.
I believe this was the realization that drove him to ruin. Because that same obsession drove me to greater heights. As I improved, I found it easier to practice. I got a job in a small jazz club in the city and played every night. I had nothing to spend money on—I am a pangolin, after all—so I instead saved it as best I could.
While I was playing everywhere I could, the boy was focused on playing in symphonies and with orchestra houses. I will not say he was a snob. But you might come to that conclusion on your own.
We saw the music inside of each other, but I am the one who prevailed. I will not tell you what happened to the boy. The story is dark. Only know that I miss him, and I wish we could have been friends. Our rivalry is what founded the structure of my masterpiece.
I had not thought much of the forest until after the boy. After that, the memories of him playing would haunt me for many long days. He sat upon a log, I was in a ball at his feet.
I set out on a pilgrimage home. Perhaps my burrow would still be there, home to another pangolin. Perhaps I would find a mate. I think, deep down, I wanted to awaken the music in others. Was I alone?
It was ruin that I found. My home was gone, years ago, the forest cut away and replaced with more city. My burrow was under concrete now. I continued to press out, further and further, until eventually the city ended. The forest here was quiet and bare. I had hired a woman to bring a battery-powered keyboard and follow me. I was still a pangolin, after all, and could not haul the thing myself. We eventually found a stump to place it on.
I played for ten days. I poured myself into every note, every tapping of the key with my claws. But nothing awoke. There was no more music to be had. I had not known that the girl with me had recorded what I played, but I am glad she did. I took that back with me to the city and worked on the piece.
When I finally played it in the city, surrounded in the amphitheatre by thousands—a dream that the boy had, but I fulfilled—many people cried. It was a harrowing piece, I think. It was the end of the forest, made into song. The loss of something. The loss of myself. My past. The loss of the boy, as well. I wonder what would have happened if we had played together, as one, instead of rivals? I wonder what would have happened if I had never come to the city. What if he had taught me, instead of what had actually happened? Me, scampering about the city, my claws clicking on the concrete sidewalk, eager to get at any piano I could find. The city provided me with the opportunity to learn. The city destroyed my home.
The End of a Career
After my masterpiece, my claws began to grow stiff. It has taken me months to type these entries, sitting quietly at the typewriter, nursing out the words. I think that the music inside of me was finally realized. The city did not stop expanding. But perhaps my music could slow it.
I am ready to venture out into the forest again. I cannot bring a keyboard with me. It is too big to strap upon my scales, and where I am going is dangerous. I will shun the sun once again. I travel out to the forest, as deep as I can.
I must continue to play, as long as I can. It will not be with a piano, no. But I will make music by clicking stones arranged in a short row. Splashing the water at the riverbank. Tapping my claws upon hollowed out logs that have fallen on their own years ago. There will be music in the forest until I cannot provide it.
Perhaps my music will find another. Perhaps some creature will discover the harmonies inside of them. Perhaps I can teach them how to play.
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